Creating Signage for Direct Food and Agricultural Sales

ANR-70
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
02/22/2019
Eric Barrett, Assistant Professor, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mahoning County 
Christie Welch, Program Specialist, Direct Agricultural Marketing, South Centers

Signage welcomes customers to a farm or market. It can provide information about your farm products, share product attributes, display prices, and invite customers to buy. Signs can skillfully direct customers around agritourism operations and keep lines moving at the farmers market. Whether it’s a large, colorful banner displaying your farm logo or a small produce sign, good signage communicates your farm’s unique brand and value proposition. 

Signs connect producers to consumers, and create awareness of current product offerings. A well-designed signage plan is the first step towards utilizing the power of signage to capture customers’ attention, tell your story, and help your sales skyrocket.

Signage has the power to improve sales and increase farm revenue! Unfortunately, producers tend to neglect signage as secondary to production concerns, employee management, financial duties, and more. Instead of putting signage off until the last minute, producers must make well-designed signage a priority. 

Designing and implementing a signage plan starts with understanding the four categories of signs commonly used to direct market farm products to customers. Next, gather ideas for signage by observing effective advertising examples in the world around you. When designing signs, keep purpose, message, customers, and materials in mind. Know when to hire a professional to help with the task of executing a signage plan.

 

Purpose of Signage

A well-designed signage plan covers the following categories of signs: welcome, information, product, and thank you.

Bialas Farms sign for farmers market identifies farm
Peppers for sale with printed signs and wax crayon prices
  1. Welcome–These signs can be on the side of the barn, at the end of the driveway, or hung at the farmers market. 
  2. Information–These signs tell customers what to do or where something is located. Examples are signs that say, “Please wash hands,” “This way to the berry patch,” or “No smokin’, purdy please.”  
  3. Product–These signs are small, but essential to making sales. Often neglected and left until the last minute, these signs can be simple to make, but must be durable.
  4. Thank you–These are the signs at the exit stating, “Thanks for Visiting Our Family Farm” or “Coming Soon.” These are also the fun signs used for taking selfies or the ones customers can put their face through to take a photo. 

Gather Ideas

Innovative ideas for signage are everywhere. Producers can gather ideas while shopping, flipping through favorite publications, viewing billboards, or dining at a restaurant. Notice the colors and graphics that capture your attention. Note visibility and readability of the message. Professional signage portrays a specific look and feel to create a response in consumers.

Ten Tips to Create Effective Signage

The farm’s signage plan should begin with a family or staff meeting to review the farm’s branding (color scheme and general style) along with the current logo design. Once agreement is reached on the branding and look of the signs, assign the marketing person/team the task of planning and updating existing signage keeping these 10 tips in mind when creating effective signage:

  1. Use branding for consistency–Just like branding is used by ranches to identify livestock, all of the farm’s signage should be identifiable. Branding must be consistent on every sign, from the welcoming sign on the side of the barn to the price sign on the tomatoes. The farm logo should be on nearly every sign, but for the smallest signs only the color scheme of the farm may be needed for consistent branding. Even recipe cards should have the feel of the farm’s brand.
    1. The use of a logo multiple times at the farm or at the farmers market helps customers remember the farm’s brand.
    2. Detailed information about using the product encourages a purchase or larger purchase.
    3. Space to write in new prices allows for use at multiple markets and all season long.
  2. Keep it short and simple–Information and statements on signs should be refined to ensure the information is a quick read for customers. Long statements can be used if part of the farms’ branding and when intended to set the mood for customer purchases. 
    Example of a product sign with farm logo, product name and description
  3. Have some “white” space–Cluttered signage can be confusing for customers. Too many words and pictures can clutter signage. For example, signs do not need pictures of each and every product grown at the farm. The logo and a slogan should be enough to communicate to customers what the farm offers. This requirement for a 40/60 relationship between the copy area and negative space is the minimum USSC standard. (Bertucci, 2015)
  4. Use correct letter sizing and shape–Road signs need a much larger font to be read as cars pass at fast speeds. Small signs on produce should not require some customers to use their reading glasses. Signage should use “sans-serif” fonts such as Arial, which are cleaner, crisper fonts to make signs attractive to the eye. Use only one font as mixing more than one on a sign is distracting to customers. The use of ALL CAPITAL LETTERS should be avoided as they are not as readable and are sometimes misinterpreted as urgent or even shouting.
  5. Ensure contrast–Black on white is easier to read than black on grey. Black on white has contrast. High contrast is why white on red works for many farms. Contrasting colors used should not only match the farm’s brand but be able to be easily read by customers.
  6. Generate ideas–One example of a sign that generates a purchase for broccoli is, “Prep and blanch, then leave in the fridge for up to four days. Sauté when needed. No more soggy, limp broccoli! Broccoli $1.60/lb.” This tells customers the farm cares about the quality of the product after the purchase. Another example of showing customers how to use products is, “Beautiful golden yellow interior is delicious in salads. Try them cooked with feta cheese, cucumber slices, and your favorite vinaigrette, all on a bed of greens. Golden Beets $2.00/bunch.” Words that invoke daily use and encourage customers to envision eating the product can increase purchases. 
    Farm sign for Purslane with ideas for use for customers
    Okra sign at farmers market explains product features
  7. Promote action–Some products that are considered staples by customers may seem boring and thus may not generate as many sales on a regular basis. Making the item more enticing with creative wording can increase purchases. One farm market used this sign at their stand: “Potatoes: A starchy staple with endless possibilities.” This simple sign changes the customers mind from thinking about carbohydrates to thinking about possibilities in their meal planning. 
  8. Be positive in a creative way–Nobody likes to be told no. Anytime the farm can come up with statements other than “no” for directional and information signage, customers will appreciate it and talk about it. For example, “Four-legged Friends Only,” may be a creative alternative to “Do Not Enter.”
  9. Show the farm’s passion–A great sign at a New York farmers market read, “Just like you remember from childhood: Sweet corn, 5 for $2.” This sign helps customers understand the farm’s brand using nostalgia. By communicating this kind of passion, the farm can reinforce its brand while increasing sales.
  10. Be understood–The message a customer receives from a sign may be very different than what the farm intended to communicate. Some ideas are great, but if the idea doesn’t resonate with customers, sales won’t happen. Signs should start as a sketch that is reviewed by many members of the farm team before being implemented. Sending the wrong message can be embarrassing or damaging to the farm brand. 

Choosing a Canvas: Signage Materials

Plywood–This is great for entrance signs and fun signs. Plywood should be painted with a primer and outdoor paint should be used for durability. Thickness should be ½ inch at minimum, depending on the project. 

Cardboard–This is mostly a “don’t” if only written with a pen. But cardboard can be a “do” if it matches the farm brand. If used, cardboard needs to be pre-cut to specific sizes for a clean, crisp look. Writing should be neat and straight, done with something as simple as a black marker. These signs should be pre-done by someone with attractive handwriting, leaving space for the updated price for the day for produce and other items.  

Chalkboards–Large chalkboards used at a farm market can attract attention but are easily ruined if the chalk gets wiped off or water leaks out of something on the way to the market. Chalk markers are now available to give the look of a chalkboard without the mess. The writing must be neat and can be done ahead of time.  

Paper and Lamination–This is one of the most viable options for food and farm marketers. Simple signs made with an 8.5 by 11-inch sheet of paper or smaller can be easy to make and provide the desired effect. Using a consistent size for the signs reduces the time and costs of sign production. Colored paper can be used, but only if it matches the farm brand. Signs made with an ink-jet printer are a poor choice because the ink will smear and run, unless laminated. Also, wax markers will write on lamination, even when the lamination gets wet. Wax markers can be used to change prices on signs based on market location, sales, and other pricing strategies. Thick paper such as cardstock is also durable if lamination is not an option.

When to Hire a Pro

Many farm managers are not artists. Investing in professional design of the logo can provide significant return on investment. An artist, graphic artist, or company should be considered before a do-it-yourself system is adopted. Graphic designers will provide you with an electronic copy of your logo to use on the farm’s marketing materials including signs. Make sure the designer understands the farm’s brand when creating your logo. Experts can help the most by defining our brand through creating thank-you signage as well as information signage. These types of signs should have the farm’s logo prominently displayed.

As for the rest of the farm’s signage, the focus should be on the consistency of the brand, which may or may not work using an artist. Many times it takes the computer printer or professionally printed stickers to be sure the logo looks good everywhere it is used on product signage. Even when an artist is used for the creative handwriting on these signs, the logo needs to be clean, crisp, and consistent. Local and online printing companies provide reasonable alternatives to do-it-yourself. 

Welcome signage is the category most likely to be left to the professionals. Most farms do not have the capability or the know-how to do this at the farm. Many times do-it-yourself costs much more in time and frustrations than the cost of hiring a professional. The toughest challenge is communicating with the professional. A drawing of the sign with details for size, materials, and other information will go a long way in obtaining comparable bids. All bids received should include a mock-up drawing of the sign. This will help the farm make a decision on a quality company. After building a successful relationship with a sign company, the farm will have a source of signs during the busy season.

Conclusion

Signage tells customers what to see, what products to purchase, and how they can support your farm. Signs create consistent communication with customers when producers are unable to engage in one-on-one conversations. Producers can utilize the power of signage to increase sales, answers questions, and create a meaningful shopping experience for customers.

Additional Resources and References

Bertucci, A. D. (2015). USSC Foundation On-Premise Sign Standards. Retrieved June 18, 2018, from United States Sign Council Foundation: usscfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/USSC-Guideline-Standards-for-On-Premise-Signs-2018.pdf

Clawson, B. (2014). Merchandising increases your success in selling local produce directly. Michigan State University Extension. Available online at: 
msue.anr.msu.edu/news/merchandising_increases_your_success_in_selling_local_produce_directly 

Dunn, J.W., Berry, J.W., Kime, L. (2017). Developing a Roadside Farm Market. Penn State University Extension. 
Available online at: extension.psu.edu/developing-a-roadside-farm-market